Recruiting and Staffing, Talent Management

High Impact Hiring: The Game Changing Value of LeBron James

LeBron James

By Dr. John Sullivan

In case you missed it, LeBron James recently led his Miami Heat team to win their second straight championship out of three straight appearances in the NBA finals. LeBron was also voted the MVP for both the entire year and the finals.

Unless you’re a sports fan, you might not think that this amazing accomplishment would be relevant to you — but you would be wrong.

If you are a senior manager or a recruiter, you need to realize that the recruiting of LeBron James is one of the most powerful illustrations of the value of what is known as “high impact hiring,” which is focusing your hiring efforts on the handful of jobs that have the highest business impact.

These recruiting “game changer” or “purple squirrel” hires are so impactful that they may improve your employer brand overnight, as well as injecting tremendous energy and new ideas into your organization.

You have to measure the quality and impact of the hire

A majority of corporate recruiting functions inexplicably fail to measure the on-the-job performance or the “quality” of new hires. But even fewer, (less than 1 percent) I estimate formally calculate the dollar impact of a great hire versus a weak hire. You might be dooming your recruiting function to barely adequate funding if you don’t convince executives of the huge economic value added by great hires.

Now shifting back to the Miami Heat example, the dollar impact on the team was unambiguous. As a result of recruiting a single high profile high talent individual, the Miami Heat received these measurable results:

  • They met their primary strategic business goal, winning the National Basketball Association championship two years straight.
  • The value of their franchise increased by hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Ticket and merchandise sales exploded.
  • Recruiting other stars to the team and retaining their current stars became easier because of the higher probability of winning a championship.
  • Because the Cleveland Cavaliers lost LeBron to Miami, a major competitor team was knocked out of the competition for the championship trophy.

If you calculate the value added over a decade by this single “high-impact hire,” it would easily exceed $1 billion. And the recruiting ROI would be stunning (LeBron’s contract costs Heat management only $17.5 million per year; his salary is only 9th highest in the league).

Unfortunately, most recruiting functions simply fail to measure the business impact of a hire one, two or three years after they are recruited.

Lessons for smart executives and recruiting leaders

The first action step is to trash the typical notion that all jobs and new hires have an equal impact on the business, so they should all be treated the same. You can best destroy the antiquated practice of treating all jobs as equal by working with the finance and cost accounting functions to quantify the increased business impact of these high priority hires.

The second step is to work with the COO and General Manager to identify which specific positions that you should focus your recruiting on. Next, identify the game changing individuals that you should target for those jobs.

Finally, recruiting leaders need to put together a “high-impact” recruiting team and strategy (the standard strategy won’t work with recruiting game changers) that is capable of attracting and hiring these game changers. After a few successes, calculate the business impact and the ROI. Next ask for even more resources so that you can also target one level down jobs and prospects.

Your funding request should be well received because, after all, if you were the recruiter responsible for landing LeBron James, would you have any doubt that you would clearly be considered “a hero” by every employee in the organization from the CEO down to the janitor.

Author’s Note: My two original articles on the value of recruiting LeBron can be found here and also here

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader who specializes in bold and high business impact and strategic Talent Management solutions for large corporations. A prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of Talent Management, he has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops and he has been featured in over 35 videos. In addition, Dr. Sullivan is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 organizations in 30 countries. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, and others. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring,” Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industries most respected strategists.” He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked #8 among the top 25 online influencers in Talent Management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and was CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, CA. Since 1982, he has also been a Professor of Management at San Francisco State University. His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net.
  • Elyssa Thome

    Definitely agree strategic hires can make incredible business impact and all recruits should not be treated equally. Nonetheless, you put yourself at risk if you are counting on Championship-level success form a high-profile hire. LeBron has been a huge asset for the Heat, but he has an incredible (and high profile) support staff. There are more examples of expensive strategic acquisitions that have not been nearly as successful. Like you said, LeBron is the ninth best paid. Eight players were paid more and were not the MVP this year.

    Basically, bringing on someone that will significantly increase value is a great thing. And if you have numbers to back it up, even better. But your company may not have Heat style success. If you promise LeBron James and end up with the kind of disappointment Dwight Howard was with the Lakers, you might be looking for a new team to play for, too. Make sure you offer the right support to help your strategic hire help you.